Tag Archives: Big Picture

Series Reboot in 2015: The Diverse Bookshelf

Once again I’m shaking up my series where I share book titles on the blog. This year I am making a concerted effort to be reading, reviewing, and buying books that feature diversity. There was a big campaign last year called #weneeddiversebooks that really brought a lot of attention to the lack of diversity seen in children’s publishing. If you haven’t heard of this I highly recommend you visit their site and read their mission and about why they got started.

The long and the short of it is that children deserve both windows and mirrors when they read. They deserve to see themselves and see people who are different from them. Sadly this is not happening largely because publishers claim that people won’t buy those books. While the U.S. (and the world) is getting more and more diverse children’s publishing, already low on representation, is staying the same. Here is an infographic put together by the fabulous publisher Lee & Low who does champion diversity that hits home this point:

Childrens Books Infographic 18 24 V3

Now, diversity doesn’t necessarily mean race. It can be gender, sexuality (although this is primarily an issue in literature for older kids), family structure (single parents, two moms, two dads, etc.), disability, and a lot more. It also means showing diversity as incidental. Not all books with African-Americans in them should be about the slave experience. Not all books with Japanese should be about the internment during WWII. Those books are important, and there are a lot of good ones out there, but diversity is all around our kids. Cam is the only fully white kid on our street. There are four other kids who live on our block and they all are all mixed race. Her world doesn’t look like the homogenous world of most children’s books. 

Diversity in publishing also doesn’t have to mean diverse characters. There is a push to publish more diverse authors and to get some diversity into the actual publishing industry. Both of these would make it more likely that diverse characters appear in books without them being flat, stereotypical or tokenistic. 

I really agree with this movement both as an educator and as parent. We are lucky to be white middle class because of the inherent privilege that comes with that and I don’t want Cam to be unaware of that privilege like I was. I want her to see the world as it is instead of defaulting to seeing it as white and I think one way to do that is put books in her hands that reflect the world she lives in and to talk to her about it when they don’t or when the representation is problematic.

I’m making a commitment to be sure that I am supporting diverse books when and where I can and one great place I can do that is here on the blog. I’ll be using this series to review and feature diverse titles that we love (I’ll still share our provocations, but they’ll be in the first week of the month). I’m going to try and have new titles in the column, but I am at the mercy of what is in at the library so I may have to look at some older titles.

I may not buy enough books to make difference and I may not have a loud voice, but I want to use the voice I have to say that #weneeddiversebooks.  

Advent Reflections: 2014/1

Going by the Waldorf celebration of Advent the first week celebrates the mineral kingdom and the festival of stones. To me this indicates a connection with the Earth (nature and seasons fits with the second week that focuses on the plant kingdom).

Being totally original I want to keep our resolution from last year to cut down on waste. I think we have become a lot more conscientious about it this year (especially in regards to food waste), but I would like to look more closely at the things we buy and get rid of to be sure we aren’t creating lots of unnecessary waste that goes into a landfill. I think we’re really good about recycling, but I would like to start looking at things and seeing if they can have a second life as something else. 

Ox Cart ManI have to say one of my favorite children’s books that exemplifies this idea is Ox-Cart Man by Donald Hall and illustrated by Barbara Cooney. A New England farmer takes a cart full of goods to market where he sells everything, even the cart and ox. He brings home a handful of new, useful things to his family who then spends the winter, spring and summer making new things to be taken to market the next fall. The beauty is how they put everything to use on their farm, even things that might not seem like they could be useful. The best example of this is the children collecting the feathers their geese and chickens have dropped to sell as pillow filling. I doubt our family would be that resourceful (although we can aspire!), but I think it’s a good message to look at everything around you and be sure there isn’t something else you can use it for as well as simply being conscious about waste. 

Cool Stuff: Vol. 1, Issue 8

- I came across this interesting piece about the Go the F*ck to Sleep book (and apparently its companion). Like the author of this post, I too found the book a little bit funny the first time through because, as parents, we’ve almost all had those moments. But I agree that the fact that the book became a best seller and warranted another book, belies a disturbing cultural trend that belittles kids and gives people permission to see them as less than people and their wants and desires as unimportant and subordinate to their parents’ wants and desires. 

Here’s a snippet. It’s a short piece I recommend it. 

But the worst thing about this book isn’t how unfunny it is. The worst thing is how mean-spirited it is. Again, the first book, on first read, was worth a cathartic laugh, tapping into the awful things parents sometimes think but dare not say. But doing a second book legitimizes those awful things and says, yes, this deserves a place in our culture’s comic vocabulary. Because it’s fun to swear at kids!

Trigger warning: the f-word is used many times both in the context of the title of the book it is talking about and as a humor device. 

– On a happier note, I was so pleased to read this post on Mummy Musings and Mayhem. Jode talks about how she is waiting the extra year to send her daughters to kindergarten, giving them the gift of time. She articulates everything I feel about it and it is so refreshing and validating to hear another parent say they are more interested in their child’s well-being than pushing academic achievement too early and/or in making themselves look good with their child’s academic achievement (a keeping-up-with-the-Joneses like competition I see parents engaging in with their kids as pawns in that). 

Because of Cam’s late August birthday we are in a school gray area. She is technically old enough to go to Pre-K in the fall of 2015, but she will be very, very young and, I think, immature. At this point we actually haven’t decided what to do. We can do two years of Pre-K, but that would be expensive. We could wait, and that’s a possibility. Or, and this seems the most likely route, we put her in in fall do a year of Pre-K and then pull her out to homeschool at which point her age doesn’t really matter. 

– I know this is posting the day after Thanksgiving, but I think it’s fine to talk about being grateful and thankful during the whole holiday season. Here’s a book suggestion and review of a book that shows what people around the world eat. It really puts things into perspective. If I’m not mistaken there are other books by this author-photographer pair about food. There is also a book by the same photographer that shows people around the world with all their belongings (or most of them) outside their homes with the family surrounding them. That is incredibly eye-opening. Look for these at your public library as they are hefty hardbacks. Good for bringing the holiday season back to Earth a little bit and helping children really see that they have more than enough.

Activity in the Hive: Planning and Documentation Experiment

At the start of October I decided I really needed to come up with a planning process that involved breaking up new provocations and aligning them with a broader plan.

Ever since I read about the Intended Projects document in Working in the Reggio Way (I discuss it a bit here) I have been trying to create my own. This document is an incredibly broad document and defines the overarching themes or concepts you’ll cover in a given period of time. Because it’s such a detailed and long document I really just needed the time to sit down, think through, and then put my thoughts together on paper (so to speak). I recently made the time to do this and to come up with some other pieces of the planning process.

Part of my intention was also to encourage myself to begin documenting Cam’s thinking and learning. This is one of the aspects I really love about the Reggio approach and I think it’s one of the more powerful pieces too because it requires a lot of reflection and listening to the child(ren) on the part of the educator.  

What I have now is essentially a series of documentations that form a beginning, middle, and end. Technically there is no end, but the final document can certainly come at a natural stopping or breaking point and must come after the project has had some time to develop and begin winding down.

My new planning process includes:

  • Intended Projects: This is a document meant to cover the planning for a season or even be a biannual document.  It lays out the broad themes and concepts I want to cover and names and generally plans provocations that will go with those themes.

I identified four core areas I want topics or themes to fall into (Language Arts, Numeracy, Art, and Nature) and then I picked what I wanted the broad topics to be (right now I have Building Letter Awareness as the Language Arts topic). Of course there is tons of overlap and I make note of that. I also have a written statement at the top that addresses both the question “what do I seek to make evident?” and discusses how these topics tie in with Cam’s expressed interests.

There are different types of projects identified within the document too: Umbrella Projects (which are those four core areas), Environmental Projects (these are projects that come out of any of the play areas we have set up in the house), Daily Life Projects (these are projects that come out of her wonderings and musings that happen in the natural course of daily life), and Self-Managed Projects (these I don’t expect to see until Cam is quite a bit older and more independent). Provocations can fall into several types of projects.

Under the general project planning I have a provocation strategies section that contains places to record questions (from me or Cam), materials, scaffolding (any prior knowledge she’ll need or provocations or activities that need to be planned or need to come first), books, and provocations (these are the actual set ups I want to put out). 

I should also note that this is not a static document. I add to it and build on it as I go along. It’s not intended to be perfect or comprehensive the first time around.

  • Provocation (Monthly) Planning: In my Intended Projects I name the provocations I want to set up. In my monthly planning I assigned a week of each month to one of the core areas/umbrella projects. On Mondays I set up the one or two provocations that go along with it (many of the provocations build on each other so there is an order to them). That means each provocation stays out for at least a month and it breaks the set-up process into much more manageable chunks. 
  • Provocation Documentation: This is a final document that will come toward the end of a provocation. It will record a statement about why I did the provocation (what questions Cam had that led there or interest that she showed), notes about context and objectives, materials available, a narrative, what was learned, and follow up ideas. I will also include pictures here. I have yet to finish one of these as we are still in the throes of the our current project How Clothes Are Made. I am hoping this will be a good place to harvest pictures and information to create documentation panels. 

I know all this sounds super formalized and school-y, but it’s all based on what Cam has expressed interest in. I chose Building Letter Awareness because Cam is frequently pointing to scribbles she makes and telling me what word she has written. I think she’s ready to start identifying letters and learning how to turn those scribbles into real letters. I am really interested in keeping a good record of what she is thinking and how she is approaching learning too, so I want to have good documentation of all that. And I am prone to getting lazy about setting things up for her (I’m procrastinating setting up some painting as I type) but if I’m hyper organized and front-load in the planning stage it’s easy for me to follow through. I guess you could say this (should) keep me honest. 

So, that’s what I’ve been up to lately. Keep in mind that I am crazy organized and a total neat freak (always have been) so this may be way beyond what any normal parent wants to do. Any one else do planning like this? How do you approach planning?

Cool Stuff Vol. 1, Issue 1

“Cool Stuff” is a new series I’m starting. I should be doing it most weeks. The intent is to share anything and everything that we’ve found useful and interesting. When Cam asks me questions about the world around us or I note that she’s seen something she doesn’t quite understand, I try to find real life examples, books, pictures, videos, you name it, to help her understand. In the process of doing this I come across a lot of neat things that I thought it might be fun to share with parents and educators.

For the inaugural post of Cool Stuff I would like to share:

3 Rules to Spark Learning: Nothing here that the Reggio Emilia approach doesn’t do, but it bears repeating. However I think it hits home that you don’t have to commit fully to the Reggio approach to value and adhere to these principles. (6 minute video from TED Talks Education)

I’m Not Patient Enough to Homeschool: Just yes on this one. It really ties into my belief that toy and baby companies are trying to convince us that we don’t know what we’re doing so we need to buy their products. (Blog post from Kate at An Everyday Story, a fabulous homeschool & Reggio blog)

 

Activity in the Hive: Extroverts, School and Traditions

Well, the big news around here is that Cam is going to school in September. We decided to put her in a three-mornings a week nursery school. This may come as a surprise considering all my talk about homeschooling, but circumstances have changed a little bit and this makes more sense at this point. I’m going back to work two afternoons a week which won’t coincide with her program, but will reduce the amount of time I have to work on other projects. I’ll gain some of that time back while she’s in school.

More importantly, I’ve thought a lot about what to do for Cam and I realized what an extrovert she is. While I think more traditional school programs have a false sense of socialization, this program actually addresses that. Regardless, I think at this point she needs a few hours a week to be involved with other kids. I’m introverted and struggle to get her the socializing she needs because I’m inclined to stay home.

Schuletute

I’m really excited about this school. It’s the Peregrine School, the Reggio school here in the area. Their program looks wonderful and we spent a long time talking with the program director who is a doctor of education and has taught in teacher training/credential programs at one of our local universities for years. If we are going to go to the trouble and expense to send Cam to school I want it to be for a program that I love and the Reggio program is.

The first day of school also means the start of a new German tradition for us. German school children receive a cone of goodies, called a schultuete, on their first day of school. Traditionally this is done only in Kindergarten or first grade, but it has apparently expanded to older kids. I’m going to make a cone that we can use for the next few years. I’ll post pictures of the cone and Cam with it.

This is, of course, bittersweet for us. It feels like a really momentous step in her growing up. I’m sure Cam will handle this transition with her usual aplomb while Tom and I stand at the gate and cry. :)

Image source: AKPool, Little Girl with Schultute

Traditions Banner

Notes from Working in the Reggio Way: Progettazione

Since readingthrough Working in the Reggio Way I’ve been revisiting chapters of the book, reading them more thoroughly, and doing the journal work she recommended doing along with the book; essentially using it like a workbook. This has been really informative both for how I see working with Cam and for examining my own thoughts about education.

In terms of more practical, hands-on application, the chapters on planning and observation have been incredibly useful. I feel like I now have a clearer idea of how to approach these things in a Reggio way. In my last blog post about this, I noted that I have read Authentic Childhood, another fabulous Reggio book, but it was so theoretical. That was what I needed when I was first approaching the idea of the Reggio Emilia approach, but now I’m at the point where I need more concrete ideas and examples of how it’s done. Working in the Reggio Way has a been exactly this kind of book.

My understanding had been that the Reggio Emilia approach has no set curriculum and that all activity is thought up by the children. It sounded like anything goes and anything and everything happens. I found this idea incredibly intimidating and didn’t really know how to ease in. How do you know exactly what provocations to set up, especially if you know your child isn’t familiar with everything in the world? Is there some kind of starting point? Do you just jump in? Does that mean there is no planning until you’ve observed and made mind maps? Do you observe your child or class for a week then begin “using” the method?

It turns out that my understanding was true, but it’s not exactly how it sounds. Firstly, there are several different kinds of projects that occur in a Reggio classroom. They are, of course, all tied together and may fit more than one category, but as Julianne Wurm points out, when trying to wrap your head around it, it makes sense to look at it in a more linear way. Throughout the chapter she uses the Italian word for planning, progettazione, because there is no good English translation that doesn’t carry other meanings. This idea carries over to her definition of several of the projects, they have words for them, but the English words carry some baggage.

The teachers do have a set of projects with set provocations and they do do some curriculum planning (progettazione). They may use these every year with little or no tweaking. However, they are very broad ideas that can encompass a lot of learning and exploring. I would call them umbrella topics. Wurm called them a project theme and says “this is the foundation, projects that all the children will do in the course of three years [the length of the program]”. Where the learning goes depends entirely on the group of children and their ideas and interests. The provocations that go with these projects tend to also be broad or open ended and, again, how the children approach them, interact with them and what they get out of them is entirely up to the group of kids and changes from year to year.

To make this a little more concrete, Wurm explains that one of the schools she apprenticed in had the Color Among the Hands project. She describes it as ” a color theory project in which children use many different languages to explore and create their own understanding of color theory”. While there was plenty of room for the children to discover and follow their interests within this project they would also have some set provocations such as painting on easels that would give the students jumping off points. 

There are also environmental projects, projects and learning that are inspired by the different areas of the classroom (such as the block area, the house play area, etc.). There are daily life projects which come from daily exposure to the world and ideas children

Reggio Emilia.jpg

wonder about. Wurm notes that these are spontaneous. There are also self-managed projects which are projects undertaken by individual children or small groups. These can be big or small and can be child- or teacher-initiated. Wurm stresses that the lines between these various projects are very fluid and it’s important not to become too rigid when thinking about them.

The projects remain flexible and child-directed because of one type of documentation called the Intended Projects. This is a planning document that is added to and edited throughout the year as new projects and ideas arise. It is also begun at the beginning of the year to get things started. I plan on discussing this in more depth next week in a post about documentation as discussed in Working in the Reggio Way.

One of the ideas I really love about the Reggio approach is that it isn’t standards based or driven. There is no end point to the learning and you believe that the children will learn what they need to learn without setting some goal. It also values the process of learning and exploring over a product that can be used to give a grade or check a box.

A New Daily Rhythm

As I noted in my last post I’m working on creating a better daily rhythm. At this point I feel like I have a handle on the breathing in and out rhythm of the day. Now I want some anchor points in the day and week (laundry on Friday, cleaning on Thursday, and the like). Cam is also trying to involve herself in some of my activities so I need to find ways she can help and include them in the schedule.

There are two aspects to a written agenda and to-do list, though, that I am trying very hard to resist. The first is becoming a slave to the clock and the second is becoming a slave to the to-do list. I would like to have a schedule that allows extra time if we’re having fun, not one that requires we shut things down to get on to the next thing on the list. I also feel myself getting too tied to the to-do lists I’ve been creating. I need to write down what needs to be done becauseI forget, but it can really drive me to forget to do other things like connect with Cam.

So, I’m going for a few words that will guide our days and the idea that at the beginning of each day I can reflect on what needs to be done, when I will do those things, and what our daily words will look like (i.e. bike on driveway for “go outside”).

Daily Rhythm

Breathing In, Breathing Out

Heaven on EarthA few months ago I read a wonderful Waldorf parenting book, Heaven on Earth. I highly recommend it if you’re looking for something to give you a sense of what Waldorf parenting looks like and also want some concrete ways to parent in that way.

Waldorf is very focused on creating and celebrating rhythms. Rhythms of the year, rhythms of the home, rhythms of the heart. (I talk a bit about rhythm here and give some other wonderful resources.) One suggestions Heaven on Earth makes is to look at your daily rhythm as breathing in and breathing out. Expanding and contracting.

I understood it to mean, and Oppenheimer suggest it can mean, that as we go through the day, Cam and I come together and then move apart in our activities. Cam is a very independent, busy toddler and she is very good at engaging in activities where she doesn’t need me to be looking over her shoulder (although she spends a good amount of time talking to me during these independent activities), but she is also still only two and a half. She needs cuddle time, time that I focus primarily on her or an activity we do together like baking.

We start by breathing in. Cuddles when she wakes up and breakfast together. A little chat or two. Then we move apart to get clean up and washed up and play a bit. From there we spend the rest of the day breathing in and out. Sometimes one period is longer than it wasthe day before. I observe Cam for indications on how she’s feeling and what she needs and adjust accordingly. Those days when I push it, I can I tell in her behavior that I’ve taken too long to come together (or break apart!). She’ll get fussy and clingy or push me away.

Waldorf Banner.jpg

It’s such a simple idea, but it works really well for us. Using this breathing in and out rhythm has worked wonders for creating a smooth, calm, happy day for us. Not that our days were horrendous before, but it’s really streamlined our rhythm.

Our Toy Philosophy: Part 4

I recently read a post from Racheous: Loveable Learning blog encouraging the use of real tools and items in children’s play. I think Rachel put to words something we’ve also been doing with many of Cam’s creative play toys.

The Montessori Method definitely encourages using real items that are sized down for children, such as tables and chairs, aprons, and kitchen utensils, and the Reggio Emilia Approach encourages the use of real materials in the atelier, such as oil pastels, paints, and scissors. I think we’ve taken that one step further and given Cam a number of items for her creative/imaginative play that are real adult items. She really seems to love most of them, especially her barcode scanner.

Just to name a few of the tools:

  • old rotary telephone & phone book
  • barcode scanner for her grocery store
  • garden tools including a wheel barrow
  • boxes and containers from our real food in her grocery store
  • carpet sweeper, broom, spray bottles and rags for cleaning
  • basket of maps
  • tool box full of real tools: hammer, saw, clamps, wrench, screwdrivers, etc.

Small pieces

Now I know the both the Waldorf and the Reggio Emilia approaches encourage lose, open-ended pieces in the imaginative play areas to encourage them to develop their imagination, but I think it’s okay to have a mix of real and open-ended toys. We have tons of basic blocks, small wooden pieces, marbles, tiles, colored balls, recycled materials, etc. And Cam plays with those for sure. She can actually be surprisingly creative when imagining what these things can be and in applying them to her building. But nothing beats the look on her face when she finds a barcode and runs to her room to scan it.